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Class in YA lit?

December 21, 2007

No, not like school classes. Class, as in socioeconomic background. Sherman Alexie is interviewed at Pop Candy, and here’s what he has to say:

There isn’t a lot of poverty literature in the young-adult world. And I don’t know why that is, but I think certainly I felt a gap. I don’t think there’s a whole lot of class literature at all. I think most of that has become racially based, and people don’t think of it as being class literature.

I was actually thinking about this last night/early hours of this morning after listening to the audio version of Missing You by Meg Cabot. Seriously. Because while the whole Rob-is-a-Grit thing had been an issue since the first book in the series, the class conflict, especially on the part of Jess’s mother, seemed so much bigger as I was listening to Missing You. I’ll go into more detail about this in my review of the audiobook, coming soon. I hope.

Also, I really want to read Alexie’s next YA book.

I will be delivering another one soon. I can tell you the title of it: Radioactive Love Song. It’s about an urban Indian kid’s epic odyssey in a car with an iPod stuffed with his mother’s favorite love songs.

35 Comments leave one →
  1. December 21, 2007 6:28 pm

    Some to consider:

    The Fortunes of Indigo Skye by Deb Caletti (an 18-year-old waitress comes into money unexpectedly and it changes her life as well as that of her family; coming out in 2008)

    Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr (one of the most dead-on depictions of middle-class small-town life I have read)

    Shelter by Beth Cooley (after her father dies and leaves his family in terrible debt, 15-year-old Lucy must leave her private school and move into a shelter with her little brother and mother)

    Before, After, and Somebody In Between by Jeannine Garsee (from a rough home life in a dangerous neighborhood and a dangerous school to an affluent school and a new life with an affluent foster family)

    Wow. I think I just drafted a booklist-post.

  2. December 22, 2007 2:20 am

    I am thankful that Alexie didn’t say there isn’t “any” but it’s funny; I think that there is never enough of what a reader wants and is looking for so it may seem that there isn’t “a lot.”

    I do think that class is something that Americans tend to shy away in any format, whether its books or TV. Also, Gossip Girl is much more obvious and out there, along with many similar ultrarich books.

    I think there are books out there; but now to think of them.

    To add to LW’s list:

    A House On Lorelei Street by Mary Pearson.

    Story of a Girl: LW, I’d argue that this family, with its economic struggles, is more of a family that is lower middle class trying to live in a middle class world and failing. Because right now, there is a tremendous amount of negativity connected to class and to money.

    The Rules of Survival by Werlin, tho it cheated a bit in the whole “living in a house that was left them” part.

    The Qwikpick Adventure Society by Sam Riddleburger; brilliant in that the family is poor and struggling but its not depicted as “end of the world we all hate each other and beat each other up.” It’s a functioning, warm family with a bright kid who just happen to be poor and living in a trailer park.

  3. December 22, 2007 5:49 am

    You guys, this is a really interesting discussion. Now I’m thinking about it — because class really is a fine distinction from race — which I’m always interested in — and gender issues and poverty issues. Interesting.

  4. December 22, 2007 9:00 am

    Hey Liz! I had considered A Room on Lorelei Street by Mary Pearson last night too but forgot to include it. 🙂 As for Story of a Girl, I knew those people growing up – those families, the three generations under one roof not for the sake of family ties but out of necessity and/or because they weren’t all exactly ready/capable to be raising others.

  5. December 22, 2007 9:29 am

    In addition to Meg Cabot making me think about class, I have to admit that the first title that came to mind after reading the Alexie quote was Melissa de la Cruz’s Fresh off the Boat. It’s been too long since I read it to remember whether Vicenza’s family was actually poor or just lower middle class, but I do remember that her family was rich in the Philippines, so emigrating to America meant both starting life in a new country and in a completely new social class. Which reminds me of My Lost and Found Life by Melody Bowsher.

    Thanks for all your comments!

  6. Gayle permalink*
    December 22, 2007 9:48 am

    Any of Paul Volponi’s books. Kids are all in the “inner city.”

  7. Gayle permalink*
    December 22, 2007 9:51 am

    Whoops and almost forgot Name Me Nobody by Lois Ann Yamanaka.

  8. Gayle permalink*
    December 22, 2007 9:55 am

    One more, Julia Bell’s Massive.

  9. December 22, 2007 10:16 am

    I don’t remember class/SES at all in Name Me Nobody, so maybe this is a good example of what Alexie means when he says, “I think most of that has become racially based, and people don’t think of it as being class literature.” Because what comes to mind first about Name Me Nobody are race and sexuality.

  10. December 22, 2007 2:30 pm

    How about Tyrell by Coe Booth?

  11. December 22, 2007 2:39 pm

    Okay, one more. This probably fits middle grades better than YA, but I think Heat by Mike Lupica fits the bill.

    As I look over my bookshelves, I’m wondering how embroiled poverty is with race. Are there books that show poor, white families, or are they all African American, Hispanic, immigrant, etc.?

    Thanks for starting this conversation. You’ve raised some good issues for discussion.

  12. December 23, 2007 5:53 am

    I remember being really surprised when I was rereading Ramona and Her Father earlier this year at how refreshing it was to read about a real blue-collar family. It does seem like lots of books gloss over this and just go with default middle class (where money isn’t really an issue) or with rich kids. This is one reason I loved Dairy Queen and The Off Season so much, and Holly Black also does a remarkable job with incorporating working class life into her books (such a good contrast with the fantasy hierarchies).

  13. December 23, 2007 6:16 am

    Interesting discussion. I really enjoyed Alexie Sherman’s last book very much and would love to read more about class and poverty in YA literature. It does seem rare to find such books. I couldn’t name you any at the moment, sorry, since this genre is pretty new to me. I could name more historical and fantasy novels but that would off topic. Have a good holiday ladies.

  14. December 23, 2007 12:32 pm

    It’s not so much YA, but How to Steal a Dog (Barbara O’Connor) would fit your list.

  15. December 24, 2007 5:45 am

    This is one of the reasons I found Laurie Halse Anderson’s PROM so refreshing …

  16. December 24, 2007 7:56 am

    One of my favorites as a kid (and now)… Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff deals with a young girl who is determined to get out of her poor neighborhood and go to college someday, so she babysits for a young single working mom. It definitely deals with class and one of the most interesting things to me is that the race of the characters is never mentioned. I remember when I read it as a kid I pictured the characters as white, but when I reread it in college for a YA lit class, I pictured the characters as black… There’s also a sequel True Believer.

  17. December 24, 2007 9:35 am

    Make Lemonade! I’ve been meaning to read that…

  18. Doret permalink
    December 25, 2007 12:10 pm

    Runaway by Wendelin Van Draanen

  19. December 26, 2007 8:37 am

    Money Hungry by Sharon Flake

    Touching Snow by S. Mindy Felin

    Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan (YA?)

    Saint Iggy by K.L. Going

    Great list idea!

  20. December 26, 2007 8:42 am

    We did a parent presentation on this very subject this year. We presented at NYAIS and got a partial list published in SLJ. Class definately is tied up with other factors like race. It’s a web for sure. Here is the link to our pdf.

    Click to access 2007BookNight.pdf

  21. December 26, 2007 3:38 pm

    Wow, thanks for the link, Stacy.

  22. Genevieve permalink
    December 29, 2007 9:36 am

    It’s elementary / middle-grade, not YA, but The Higher Power of Lucky is definitely good for this. The residents of Tin Pan all get the government cheese and government checks, and there’s no negativity about it (other than the fact that the cheese is lousy), it’s just the way it is.

  23. December 31, 2007 5:59 am

    It was interesting coming across this blog. My recently-acquired agent told me he specifically liked my book because my MC is from a blue collar family. Maybe in 2008, my book will find a place to snuggle in.

  24. December 31, 2007 7:37 am

    My ya novel, Blood Brothers, (Delacorte 2007) deals with class issues and poverty.

  25. January 1, 2008 5:49 am

    This is a great blog topic.
    I am most familiar with Mildred Taylor’s Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry and the other novels in the series which is set in Mississippi during the Great Depression. Also Sharon Bell Mathis’ Teacup Full of Roses is a story about a Black family in inner city New York around the late 60s, early 70s.

    Recent, modern YA literature that has issues of class include Money Hungry and Begging for Change by Sharon Flake and Catherine Gilbert Murdock’s Dairy Queen and The Off Season.

  26. January 3, 2008 1:28 am

    There are a lot of historical books dealing with poverty. Interesting topic. These are some contemporary works I could come up with:
    Mark Harmon’s Skate covers many issues, including poverty.
    Marya Smith’s Winter-broken.
    Mark Harris’ Come the Morning, (family’sdescent into homelessness.)
    Traci Jones’ Standing Against the Wind
    Candy Dawson Boyd’s Circle of Gold
    Cynthis DeFelice’s Under the Same Sky (nice depiction of privilege versus the poverty of migrant workers.)
    Michael Simmon’s Pool Boy (becomes poor)
    Susan Brown’s You’re Dead, David Borelli (becomes poor)

    Poverty is often linked to race, but also substance abuse.

  27. January 4, 2008 6:34 pm

    Poverty is also linked to mental illness un-detected.


  1. Renay HEARTS Books (And Ninja/Pirate Fanfic, Too) » links for 2007-12-24
  2. Class in Young Adult Literature « Education and Class
  3. Privilege « Teen Book Review

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